02/04/2012 11:33 BST | Updated 31/05/2012 06:12 BST

Yoga Gets in to Medical Schools!

This week I thought I'd bring you a bit of news from the yoga world. I try to keep up to date with stuff but there's so many amazing things going on everyday it's not that easy.

This caught my attention though. I've recently come across Heather Mason as probably one of the most knowledgeable people in the UK at the moment when it comes to yoga and how it affects the mind and mental well-being. Turns out she's managed to get herself a class in Medical School in the US, working with Roger Saper, an Associate Professor and Director of Integrated Medicine - as in, teaching an elective - a whole module to university students on yoga and how it affects the mind - how I wish I had that option when I was a student!

Here is a bit more from the original article...

While yoga sessions for med students are not unique (the University of Connecticut Medical Center and Georgetown Medical School both offer them), teaching students about yoga's physiological and neurological effects is. Saper, who will be one of several guest speakers addressing issues from positive thinking to the neurobiology of stress over the 11 weeks of class, says the class "targets the unique challenges and stressors medical students face as well as offers a fairly advanced level of intellectual content appropriate for the medical students."

The great thing about this module is it actually requires a yoga practice. The students have a yoga class before a thirty minute talk on the effects of yoga on the mind. I personally feel, as do many yogis, that the most important part of yoga is the doing. You have to do. If you do, you experience. If you experience, you heal. If you heal, you become fulfilled and happy and all the lovely things we all want!


Some students stumble from move to move; others slide into position as if into a second skin, eyes forward, bodies steady. After an hour, Mason directs them to close their eyes, lie down, and relax. Their limp bodies rest on a rainbow of yoga mats.

Mason asks them to count their breaths per minute. She knows that the ideal count of five or six has been shown to increase heart rate variability, which can ameliorate problems like depression, epilepsy, post-traumatic stress disorder, and cardiac disease.

Breaths counted, Mason segues from the practice of yoga to a short dissertation on the neuroscience of yoga, something that has been studied by Chris Streeter, a MED associate professor of psychiatry and neurology. In one study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, Streeter used magnetic resonance spectroscopy to explain why yoga practitioners report a greater improvement in mood and a decrease in anxiety than people who simply walked for relaxation. Streeter found that the yoga group had higher levels of the neurotransmitter gamma-amino butyric acid, or GABA, the likely cause of positive mood changes.

So, proof yoga supports happiness. If the US is a bit far for you...or you don't fancy joining medical school why not try a local class first and see what happens? Better yet, come see me!

Excerpts and photo taken from BU Today.

For more information about the Embodied Health elective, visit the School of Medicine's Enrichment site. Interested first- and second-year medical students can contact Ana Bediako to enroll. For more information on Heather Mason and Yoga for the Mind in the UK, visit